Category Archives: Writing

HOW TO WRITE A SCENE

Rules, rules, rules. For writers, there are so many rules to follow and break.

Never use very.
Never open a novel with a dream.
Get rid of prologues and epilogues.
Remember the rule of three.
Avoid clichés.
Use active, not passive words.
Eliminate ly words.
Include all the five senses.
Get rid of exclamation marks.
Avoid long sentences.
Prepare an outline first.
Let your characters lead the story.

Today, while searching the internet for a way to take the pain out of revisions and outlining, I stumbled across a new set of rules on how to write scenes. I actually like this set, because, as I work through my revisions, I’m tempted to keep the old dead worthless crappy scenes. They’re already written. I’ve spent tons of time crafting them. And I’m lazy. But, if I follow these “rules”, I know my scenes will be more unified, vibrant, and interesting.

So, as I tackle revisions and a new outline for an outdated book, I’m taping this list to my desk to follow. Maybe this list can help you, too.

And, yes, I’ll probably be repeating the process at least two hundred times before I get it right.

-Bonnie Dodge

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SELF-SABOTAGE, MY WORD FOR 2017

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Words of encouragement are flooding social media this month. Words like hope, peace, love, respect, patience, and even no. As a writer, I’d like to offer another. Self-sabotage. That thing many writers do to avoid moving forward.

I’m not the queen of sabotage, but I know how to procrastinate. Take this book I’ve been working on for almost twenty years. Ten years ago I shopped this book around thinking it was finished. But clearly it wasn’t or I’d be collecting royalties instead of avoiding revisions.

Why isn’t it finished? It isn’t because I don’t know how to write or deliver a product. It isn’t that I don’t love the idea of this book, I do. The only reason I can offer is that I’ve gotten in the habit of avoiding this project. Every time I set out to finish this book something gets in the way. Here are some of the ways I’ve sabotaged the completion of this book.

1) I can’t work on this book until I finish xxx. Insert clean the house, take the dogs for a walk, or do the laundry.

Life is messy and has a way of getting in the way of writing. There will always be something else that needs attention. Pretending I can’t write until the dishwasher is loaded only prolongs the project. Instead of waiting until everything is done, I need to make working on this project a priority. First thing in the morning I need to sit down and revise a chapter. Before anything else. Waiting until I have a big chunk of time to work isn’t the answer and is just a lazy excuse.

2) I need to do more research.

After twenty years I should have more than enough information to finish this book. And if I don’t I can make it up. After all, it’s fiction, not non-fiction.

3) I don’t have the skills to write this story.

Recently I listened to Alice Hoffman discuss writing. She said a writer needs to write every day. Only by writing every day do you become a better writer. So stop waiting until you have the skill level you seek. Start writing and it will come.

4) It’s not perfect, so why bother.

Good writing is revisions, lots of them. Anne Lamott says write a messy first draft. Get the story down and then do the work of revisions. That’s where skill and magic happen, in the honing of words.

5) I need feedback on this chapter before I continue.

Maybe, but probably not. Even if you are lucky enough to have friends and family who offer to read your work and comment, this can be a big way to sabotage your writing. Reading is subjective and you will get good comments and bad comments. The time for constructive feedback is after the book is done. When you know the ending of your story, you’re better equipped to identify weak plot points and motivation. Too much advice while you’re being creative and writing can stop your story dead. Rely on your gut and trust the process.

6) I’m not smart enough to write this story.

If that is true, than put it away and work on something else. Just because you don’t feel adequate to complete this story doesn’t mean you can’t produce a sexier, better story. Learn to let go. Not everything you write is golden.

7) I need to turn off the internal editor.

Often the fear of failing, or even the fear of succeeding, can prevent me from finishing a project. Yes, criticism is scary. But it’s part of the process. Don’t let fear prevent you from achieving your goal. Writing can be scary, learn to work through the fear.

8) I can’t write until I get in the mood.

The longer you work as a writer the more it becomes a job and there are days you won’t want to go to work. Waiting for the mood to strike could mean days without writing, a sure way to shoot yourself in the foot. Many times I sit down to write, in a bad mood because I don’t want to write that day, and like magic my muse shows up and I produce some pretty amazing stuff. If you want to be a good writer, write even when you don’t want to. You’ll be surprised at what you can accomplish.

9) Illness gets in the way.

My goal for 2017 is to finish this book. I had a good start, with four chapters revised before I ended up in the hospital with a nasty gallbladder. See, I told my son, this book doesn’t want to be finished. And, yes, sometimes I feel like that. But the book isn’t the writer, I am the writer, and no one else is going to finish this book but me.

Self-sabotage diminishes passion and energy. It’s just an excuse to keep you from moving forward. If you’re in the habit of self-sabotaging yourself, try to identify why. Then work toward reaching your goal. You’re in control. Only you can do it.

-Bonnie Dodge

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Should You Co-Author a Book?

A few weeks ago I received a call from a fellow writer. Knowing I’d co-authored Billy Neville Takes a Leap with Patricia Santos Marcantonio, the writer wanted to know how hard it was to co-author a book. She had been asked to help write a sci-fi story and she wasn’t sure if she should do it.

Co-authoring can be tricky. There are pros and cons and a constant shuffle for balance. If it’s something you’re considering here’s some tips to help you decide.

1) Pick someone whose writing you know and like.

Pat and I have been a writing team for almost twenty years. We met in a college creative writing class, formed a critique group, and have been working together ever since. We know each other’s weaknesses and strengths, and we’ve learned how to agree to disagree when we have to.

2) Set your ego aside and let the story take you on a journey.

As a co-author, your partner will love some of your sentences and hate many of your ideas. Like that old saying ‘kill your darlings’, this is the time to check your ego at the door. The story is more important that your brilliant words. Once you set your ego aside, you’ll be surprised how the characters unfold. Once we discovered the essence of Billie, she took over, and all we had to do was sit back and take dictation. We alternated writing the chapters and there were times when we couldn’t tell who wrote what. That was when we knew the process was working and that Billie had come to life.

3) Be flexible and willing to compromise.

It’s good to establish a schedule and try to stick to it, but life often gets in the way. There’s no reason to be rigid and insist that you keep to schedule if your co-author is ill or expecting out-of-town company. Also, be flexible when it comes to disagreements. As you write the story, be open to suggestions and willing to listen to your co-author’s ideas. Be willing to win some, lose some, and don’t take it personally. This is a product, not your first-born.

4) Have a long-term plan, and if necessary, put it in writing.

Who is responsible for writing each chapter? Who is responsible for research? How will you market the book? Who pays for what? How will you split royalties? Who owns the copyright? All of these business questions should be addressed before you begin writing. When we started River St. Press we learned how to maneuver through all the business questions before we ever thought about writing a book together. With all the technical stuff out of the way, the writing part was easy.

Writing Billie Neville Takes a Leap was a rewarding experience. Together we developed a character with spunk. Marketing is a pleasure instead of a chore because we don’t have to do it alone.

There are lots of ways to write a book. If co-authoring is something you’re considering, don’t be afraid to take a leap. You just might surprise yourself and have fun along the way.

-Bonnie Dodge

Ten-year-old Billie Neville wants to be a daredevil, just like her hero Evel Knievel. She also wants a best friend. Riding “the best bike in the whole world” Billie’s desperate to enter a bike jumping contest with three boys named The Meanies and show them her cool bike skills. When Evel comes to town to jump the Snake River Canyon, Billie learns she has to be a friend to make friends and that not all heroes have to soar over canyons.

 

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Find out more here: Billy Neville Takes a Leap

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How to Write When You Lack Inspiration

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You’re half way through your novel and suddenly you don’t want to work on it anymore.

You’re past deadline and your editor wants to know where your manuscript is.

The thought of writing gives you a headache and sends you to bed.

We’ve all been there, the writer who doesn’t want to write. We’re tired, we’re bored. We’d like to take a break and do something else more exciting, even if it’s scrub the toilet or feed the pigs. Ernest Hemingway said it so well. “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”

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I believe writing is a gift. Others look at writing as a job. Either way, we all come to the page the same, inspired or not to get words on paper.

How we do that, though, is another story. Some writers designate a specific time, say, every day 8 a.m. to noon, as their writing time. During those hours they write, whether they feel like it or not. Others write in big chunks of time when they feel inspired. They let artistic inspiration take over and write until they are empty. Then they wait for the well to fill and repeat the process. Productivity is as varied as there are writers, and we each handle writing-time differently.

I don’t write everyday. Many days I lack inspiration. But I do do something writing-related everyday. This is my job and fans are waiting for the next story. I can’t let lack of inspiration keep me from doing the work. If I did, nothing would ever get done.

So here’s what I do when I don’t feel like writing.
I work on something writing related, like marketing.
I research for the next story.
I edit.
I do something writing related and record it on a calendar I keep on my desk. Too many blank days in my calendar means I’m lazy and unfocused and I need to get busy.

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If you’re feeling uninspired, here are some tips that may help.

1) Show up.

If it’s a workday, work. Record your progress on your calendar and then go play. At the end of the day you may not have written five pages, but you will have done something to move forward and the day won’t have been wasted.

2) Reward yourself with Internet and email after writing. You’d be surprised what a motivator that is.

3) Set a timer and start writing.

Turn off your internal editor and just start writing. Anything. Even if you write ‘this is crap’ for ten minutes. Free writing stimulates the brain and before you know it you’ll be in the zone. You can’t edit a blank page, so get to work.

4) Change your location.

Sometimes a change in location can be just the boost you need. Go outside and write in the sun. Go sit by a stream. Even a coffee shop or library can inspire you to be productive.

5) Work on something new, or collaborate with another writer.

Often we get tired of working on the same thing everyday. It’s boring and unchallenging. Work on something else. Have more than one story in the basket at a time. When you tire of one you can still be productive. Just be sure to complete those stories and not use this as an excuse to procrastinate.

6) Have a writing buddy.

Having someone who understands the writing process is invaluable. Whine to your writing buddy when you don’t want to write. Finding out that they are having a good productive day will tweak the competitor in you and send you to your desk. Before you know it the words will flow again.

7) Get up and move.

Take a walk. Take a coffee break. Physical exercise often stimulates the muse.

8) Listen to music and set the mood.

I have a meditation CD I play when I lack inspiration. Sometimes I also light a candle. These stimuli tell my brain it’s time to work and add pleasure to what can some days be daunting.

9) Read a good book. Read a bad book.

Either one will get you thinking. Why did he/she use that word? Why does this work so well? This is a piece of shit. I can do better.

10) Allow yourself to make mistakes.

The first draft doesn’t have to be perfect. It just has to be written.

Not every writer approaches the blank page the same. Some writers work best at night. Some in the morning. Some during the day when kids are in school. Some only when the muse strikes hot. How you approach the blank page is up to you. The trick is to be consistent, to keep writing even on days when you’d rather mow the lawn.

-Bonnie Dodge

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Show, Don’t Tell

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Beginning writers are often instructed to Show, Don’t Tell. Sounds simple enough, but exactly what does that mean? Here are a few examples.

Telling. Bob Jones was fat.

Showing. Bob Jones pushed himself out of the chair. His arms wobbled has he hefted his large body up and tried to stand. His knees buckled under the weight and he had to sit down and catch his breath before he could try again.

Telling. I hurt myself.

Showing. My arm throbbed. Blood streamed from a large gash, staining my shirt and pants.

Telling. I was nervous.

Showing. Waiting for my teacher to reply, I grew dizzy. My face flushed and I hoped my deodorant was strong enough to mask my fear.

Telling. It was hot.

Showing. Max sweltered under the noonday heat. Beads of perspiration formed a river, dropping into his eyes and clouding his vision. If he didn’t find water soon, he knew he would pass out.

These are simple examples, but you will notice two things. It’s easier to tell because it uses less words, and often the word “was” shows up in the sentence. I was doing something; he was doing something. Your reader will get a better picture and be more invested in your story if you can describe what is happening with action. A man is so heavy he can’t get out of his chair. Blood streams from a cut on an arm.

Remember to use Show, Don’t Tell wisely. If you “show” every sentence in your novel it could easily reach 200,000 words. Show the things that are important and the things you want your reader to remember. Tell the small things that don’t matter. He started his car. He walked to the store.

Don’t forget to incorporate the five senses. What does your character hear? The sound of the chair creaking as he tries to stand. What does he smell? The grease from his cold French fries. What does he see? Blood staining his clothes. What does he taste? Salt when he licks his dry lips. What does he touch? His wet forehead when he wipes away the sweat. Using the senses is another way to make the scene more intimate and allows your reader to experience what your character is experiencing.

Balancing show and tell is tricky, but once you master it your writing will sparkle and your readers will ask for more.

-Bonnie Dodge

 

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How Important are Book Reviews?

How Reviews Help Authors

Do you read reviews? After you’ve read a good/bad book, do you leave a review? Should you?

In the super competitive world of publishing, reviews are important to writers. Many authors see this as a dreaded nuisance; you wrote the book already, why do you need to worry about reviews? The answer is simple. Because reviews matter to the industry. The more positive five-star reviews you have on Amazon.com and Goodreads, the more visibility your book will get, making the book easier to market. That’s why, if you follow many authors on social media, you will find them asking for reviews every time they release a new book.

Maybe you’re not a fan of reviews. Maybe you never read them. But most of the world does. According to social media, over 85% of all Amazon Kindle readers rely heavily on book reviews. In a sea of books, a good book review helps readers determine if the book is for them and worth the money.

Additionally, many online advertising venues have requirements such as a certain number of positive reviews before they will sell you an ad. The same is true with book review sites. More reviews get authors exposure to other book review sites, blogging communities, and book clubs. More reviews equal more sales for authors.

If you’re an introvert like me, it’s hard to ask for reviews. Especially from people you see everyday. Further, some sites look closely at author relationships, going so far as to take down reviews they believe are not genuine or too closely related to the author.

So, what’s an author to do?

It’s your book, who better to promote it? Get over yourself and your fear of asking for reviews. Ask everyone, your friends, family, and other writers. Offer copies of your book, in print or a pdf file in exchange for reviews. Consider using sites like Kirkus Indie Reviews and pay for reviews.

Ask, ask, ask, but be realistic in your expectations. Not everyone is going to like your book. Not all your reviews will be positive. What one person likes, another one won’t. Don’t be afraid of bad reviews. They often spark interest.

Book reviews come in all shapes and sizes. Successful authors know reviews are an important part of the process.

-Bonnie Dodge

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Steps to Writing

“Now shall I walk or shall I ride?
‘Ride,’ Pleasure said;
‘Walk,’ Joy replied.”
― W.H. Davies

I love being a writer, but writing has its hazards. One of them is the amount of time I spend in front of my computer. If I’m deep into a story, I can sit for hours, forgetting to move as I struggle to create a perfect phrase or sentence. When I finally look at the clock, I’m often surprised that the day is over and I haven’t made time to walk.

It’s no secret that walking is good for us. A Harvard health letter claims walking can strengthen bones, tune up the cardiovascular system, and clear a cluttered mind. Because I try to walk every day, I know these declarations are true. In addition to lowering my blood sugar, the minute I put on my shoes and start to walk, that plot problem I’ve struggled with for hours, or that special word I couldn’t find in the thesaurus, pops into my head and just like that I’m eager to finish my walk and return to my desk.

Often I find myself suffering foggy brain syndrome. When I sit too long, everything slows down, including my brain. A quick stroll, even just ten minutes, helps combat this affliction. Walking moves my muscles and pumps fresh blood and oxygen through my head, triggering the release of feel-good chemicals and making it easier to get back to work.

I’m not the only writer to find walking beneficial to my craft. Henry David Thoreau said, “Me thinks that the moment my legs begin to move, my thoughts begin to flow.” Gretel Ehrilich said, “Walking is also an ambulation of mind.” And Thomas Mann said, “Thoughts come clearly while one walks.”

Hemingway wrote in A Moveable Feast, “I would walk along the quais when I had finished work or when I was trying to think something out.” And Henry Miller said, “Most writing is done away from the typewriter, away from the desk. I’d say it occurs in the quiet, silent moments, while you’re walking or shaving or playing a game or whatever.”

The next time you get stuck with a plot point or are facing writer’s block, put on your shoes and go for a walk. It might just be the right step to take to further your writing.
-Bonnie Dodge

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Why Writing Conferences are Important to Your Mental Health

Earlier this spring, my writing partner and I discussed attending the Idaho Writers Rendezvous in Boise presented by the Idaho Writers Guild. We knew the basics, money was tight, and it meant being away from home for three days, not to mention away from our writing routines. With so many excuses, it was easy to talk ourselves into staying home. But we knew it was important to network, so we made time in our schedules and went.

We’re glad we did. We both had hit a brick wall in writing. We were buried in work—the editing, the marketing, and revisions. Every day was a grind—responding to emails, putting out fires, scheduling book signings, and trying to make time to write. Under the strain of the daily routine, we found ourselves in an agonizing rut. We were writing, but we weren’t having fun.

You’re smiling now because you know writing is work. Hard work, and not every day is a picnic. But it should be, right? At least some part of the day should make you glad you’re a writer, or why are you doing it?

That’s where our heads were when we attended the IWG conference this spring. We must have been in the right space at the right time because two of the presenters helped us reset our brains. Highly successful writers, Kristine Kathryn Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith, opened our eyes and reminded us why we chose to be in this business. My partner had an aha moment when she discovered it was okay to write as fast as she does. She had self-talked herself into thinking she had to slow down to be normal, and she wasn’t enjoying the process. It went against her natural drive. I learned it was okay to let go of the “shoulds.” I was reminded that the only should I needed to listen to was the should that makes my writing better. Our two-hour trip home was electrified as we discussed these affirmations and formulated new projects. We felt free to let go of the expectations and enjoy writing again.

Maybe you’re on the fence about attending an up-coming conference. Maybe it would be easier to stay home. But while you’re deciding, don’t forget to look at the things you might learn; some things that may even surprise you.

-Bonnie Dodge

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Whatever you write, be happy

I had lunch with a woman who is also a writer and throughout I was struck by her love of what she was doing. She had no bloodthirsty goal to be on the New York Times Bestseller list or climb the lofty heights of the Amazon ranks. She wasn’t out to make sure that her writing was on all the Nooks and Kindles in the universe.
She just loved what she was doing. She was happy, and her happiness was comforting.
I will admit to you I’ve fallen into that unhappy underworld when I begin to wonder why the heck I’m not selling millions, okay maybe thousands, of books on Amazon or at Barnes & Noble, or why Hollywood hasn’t optioned any of my stories for big screen or little one, for that matter. These are times when my ego takes hold like a rope. But as I’ve grown older I have learned that pinning happiness on those two things alone will lead straight to unhappiness. It’s like high school when you wish the cutest guy would ask you out or that you make the cheerleader squad. When those two things don’t happen, you are in high school hell. Thankfully, high school is over.
And please don’t misunderstand me. I’m not knocking ambition. If your only goal is to sell lots of books, then I wish you all the happiness. Damn, if my books do hit no. 1, I certainly won’t be sad or turn down the royalty checks.
But I’m not going to be holding my breath either.
I’m just going to keep on writing and learning how to become a better writer because that’s why I began all this in the first place. I love to tell stories and create characters. I love to have someone read my writing and feel a bit of the emotions I felt when writing the words. Or have them say, ‘Hey, I know what that’s like.’ I like to make them laugh, cry, feel scared, or rewarded. I like them to think. Mostly, I pursue what Harper Lee wrote in “To Kill a Mockingbird,” “You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view . . . until you climb into his skin and walk around in it.”
That gives me the greatest joy–giving people another point of view through my writing.
I’ve had my share of successes and I am grateful and lucky, but as in life, I have to realize there will always be people with more success and less success. People with more money and less. At times, I still have to work to keep myself out of that hades of unhappy writers, but it is getting easier and isn’t that something to be happy about?

Following is the link to the best list I’ve read about how to be a happy writer by novelist, screenwriter and game designer Chuck Wendig. Enjoy!
http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2013/03/26/25-ways-to-be-a-happy-writer-or-at-least-happier/?subscribe=success#blog_subscription-2

Patricia Santos Marcantonio

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Checklist for writers

January is a month for new beginnings. While everyone is setting goals and making resolutions, I have a few of my own I’d like to share. Years of writers’ conferences, workshops, and book signings have taught me what to do as well as what not to do as I try to present myself as a professional writer.

  • Professional writers listen and observe. At workshops, they don’t talk unless they are the keynote speaker. They respect the presenter even if they think they know more than the speaker. They don’t hog the time or offer their opinions unless they are specifically asked.
  • Dress appropriately. Professional writers don’t show up in pajamas even if they write most of their books in pjs. They pay special attention to their appearance and put their best self forward. They brush their teeth, comb their hair and wear clean conservative clothes at presentations and book signings.
  • Be courteous. At book fairs, professional writers don’t shout out, “Hey you, buy my book.” Nor do they interrupt other authors talking about their own books by saying, “Hey, I’m a writer too.” Or “Hey, I take credit cards.” They wait their turn and are considerate.
  • Don’t gossip or complain. Professional writers are mindful of what they say in public. They don’t gossip or burn bridges. They know that the writer they pan today may be the best-selling author they’d like a back cover blurb from tomorrow. They know that the writer they berate may be the person they may have to chair a committee with some day.
  • Be on time. Professional writers realize that time is a precious commodity. They don’t make others wait. They call when they know they are going to be late and stick to schedules, no matter what.
  • Continue to learn. Professional writers know that writing is an ever-changing industry and that what worked five years ago isn’t going to work today. They read, study, and attend meetings and conferences to stay current in their industry.
  • Don’t brag. Professional writers check their egos at the door. They realize that everyone has an opinion or something to boast about. They don’t pontificate or shove their personal opinions on others.
  • Be dependable. Professional writers keep their promises. If they sign on to do something, they do it. They are honest and reliable. They finish what they start.
  • Exercise self-control. Professional writers control their emotions. They realize that writing is a subjective career. They know how to handle rejection. They don’t shout or scream in public if their feelings are hurt, or if they have a problem with another writer. They settle disputes privately with discretion.
  • Be present and give your all. Professional writers believe in themselves and write even when the writing is going badly. They believe in the process and they always do their best, knowing that their audience deserves only the best.

And lastly, professional writers know the difference between work and play, and count themselves blessed that they get to do something they love every day. As you begin the New Year, put your best foot forward. Be professional and enjoy the journey.

-Bonnie Dodge

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